Don Blankenship, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in West Virginia, suggested that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may have conflicts of interest in foreign relations because his father-in-law is a “wealthy Chinaperson.”
The coal baron, who recently served a year in prison for his role in a deadly mining explosion in 2010 that he refuses wrongdoing in, made the bizarre racial remark on a radio program on Monday. (Blankenship’s comments begin around the 1:06:05 mark.)
Blankenship, whose fiancée was reportedly born in China, began by telling host Dimitri Vassilaros he doesn’t have “any problem with China.”
“But I have an issue when the father-in-law is a wealthy Chinaperson and there’s a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China,” he said, targeting the father of McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who is the U.S. secretary of transportation. Chao’s father, James Chao, was born in China but launched his shipping company, the Foremost Group, in New York.
Blankenship, Massey Energy’s former CEO, went on to criticize Elaine Chao, accusing her of once being part of an “environmental extremist group” that he claims “damaged West Virginia and the permitting process for coal and energy.”
The transportation secretary, until 2015, served on the Bloomberg Family Foundation’s board of directors. The foundation worked to help cities transition away from coal use and instead toward energy sources that limit carbon emissions.
Though Blankenship tried to throw scrutiny over McConnell’s extended family and his ties to China ― calling it “one small example” of conflicts of interest seen in Washington ― he has many ties of his own.
Blankenship’s fiancée is Farrah Meiling Hobbs, who was born in Beijing and moved to the U.S. in 1996 where she founded her second trading company, according to The New York Times, citing a website belonging to her.
In 2009, Blankenship also discussed with the Charleston Gazette-Mail his desire to move to Asia and seek dual citizenship in China. He also praised China’s government, saying: “Americans confuse the words communism and dictatorship.”
Despite these contradictions, Blankenship, who is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, said on Monday that he’s read books that criticize McConnell as being “too soft on China.”
Though he added that U.S. senators need to be “more transparent” about their business ties, last week he reportedly told the Times that he believes nobody “should have to disclose private information.”
That statement came amid scrutiny over the Senate candidate listing a $2.6 million mansion outside Las Vegas as his primary residence in 2016. He has defended that it’s not uncommon for people in the coal industry to own homes in different states.